The Australian justice system has at last stomped decisively into the 21st century, striking out at online bullying and harassment. Following the first Commonwealth criminal prosecution of its kind last week, a young man entered a plea of guilty to a charge laid against him by AFP investigators in relation to a series of offensive comments he had posted online regarding a photo of a woman’s Tinder profile that one of his friends had posted on Facebook. It has been reported the man posted some 50 disparaging attacks on the photo, including rape threats and other derogatory and threatening comments. Following his plea of guilty, he was remanded to be sentenced later this year, and could face up to 3 years imprisonment.

Under the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act it is an offence to use a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence. Prosecutions for threats made in telephone calls and text messages have become relatively commonplace during the past decade or so, but in this particular case the carriage service used was the internet. As anyone who has ever spent much time online can probably attest, the wholesale, cavalier and irresponsible use of disparaging, offensive and often threatening language by Internet users has become increasingly widespread, but this was the first time that an Australian Court had applied the Commonwealth Code provisions to punish such behaviour on the net.

In 2012, television personality Charlotte Dawson was admitted to hospital after she fell victim to a tirade of online bullying and harassment, by faceless internet Trolls who posted a plethora of hateful comments about her, including exhortations to “kill yourself”, “stick your head in a toaster” and “go hang yourself”. On 22 February 2014, Dawson tragically committed suicide in her Woolloomooloo home.

Hopefully those nasty trolls out there are no longer feeling as fearless and untouchable as they obviously once did.

Natasha Murakami, Gold Coast Lawyer

NLM